The ‘Week from Hell’ duly ended on Wednesday with the thoroughly expected defeat to City. So, now begins the ‘Fortnight of Purgatory’.
Apologies if I am being imprecise with my Catholic terminology — and, yes, I do know purgatory was actually officially chalked off as offside back in the 1960s. But these next two games promise to be very trying. Our failure to convert at Old Trafford last night means we have only the slimmest chance left of a Champions League place, no matter how many points we garner.
Certainly, few of us expect to see this lardy bunch of under-achieving players busting every gut against relegation-fodder to chase a 10% rainbow. That is not to say the players weren’t trying yesterday, to be fair. Indeed, for 30 minutes, so bright and brisk were The Shirts that all thoughts of hell and limbo were banished; was there a heavenly miracle ahead?
Of course, we should all have known better. Lady Luck’s knight, Alex Ferguson, isn’t manager anymore, and those phenomena largely stopped happening in 2013. Ole had been desperately trying to rub Fergie magic all over the squad all week, to almost comic and pathetic effect at times.
Instead, poor unlucky De Gea, our only indisputably world class player, dropped yet another clanger, and what is left of the season began to crumble through our fingers.
The match thus ended up as a metaphor for Ole’s whole United managership so far. A brilliant start getting us all giddy, followed by bad luck, mistakes, chickens roosting, and finally the unavoidable consequences of gross lack of fitness. That last quality was abjectly on display throughout the miserable second half, with Lumpen Lukaku the most embarrassing specimen thereof.
Presciently, Ole had spoken about the fitness issue in his pre-match gig, recognising the mismatch between previous training and current tactical demands, and then promising that this is something that will get ‘sorted out’ in pre-season.
Will it, though? Indeed, will anything get resolved, at least to a sufficient degree to allow United make an honourable attempt at a challenge for 2020? Failure to get into the Champions League would cost us heavily in the market, given every top player prioritises the competition way ahead of all others.
I am told Jesse Lingard said much the same in a media interview last week, which prompted United’s press department to demand the sequence’s excision from broadcast. Euro-nerves are clearly jangling over more than just Brexit.
It’s not just that a no-show puts off potential signings; it also makes talent harder to keep. “What talent?” you might snort in response, and I see your sarky point. But if we can at least accept we’d rather keep Rashford and De Gea, then the prospect of Europa League delights may not be quite enough to tempt them to stay, should Barca, Real, or PSG see through their bid threats.
You’ll note I didn’t mention any similar worries about Pogba there. Not because I’m denying he is a talent — clearly, he has some; he just doesn’t show it at Old Trafford much — but because almost no one cares. He has gone so far down the Neil Webb route that 90% of the Reds I know actively want him gone.
I doubt Woodward & co share that view though; the club have been heavily briefing this week that it wants to keep Pogba and that he is not for sale should Real come for him.
Hmm. We remember the same ‘not for sale to Real’ routine over Ronaldo. And in this current case, we should be happy to sell the ‘virus’ to Madrid.
There’s over a hundred million reasons why.
So off we trudge now, to the wretched wastelands of Yorkshire and the doomed ‘Uddersfield. That promises to be an odd afternoon. The heart will have gone out of United’s players, yet they do still (just) have something to play for; whereas our opponents have nothing to play for, yet are likely to be full of gate-happy last-hurrah zest.Many of their fans will possibly never see United at their ground again; giving us a farewell smack would be a lifelong memory. One is reminded, once again, of what a big deal beating United is for most clubs; but once again, one despairs that so few of our own current players truly warrant such awe.